He’s America’s Favorite Librarian — And He’s Just Getting Started Spreading ‘Library Joy’

Portside Date:
Author: Ruth Etiesit Samuel
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Huffington Post

In less than a year, Mychal Threets, a supervising librarian at the Solano County Library in California, has earned a handful of monikers: “He’s human sunshine.” “A modern-day Mr. Rogers meets Levar Burton.” “America’s favorite librarian.”

Threets has captured the hearts of thousands online with his viral TikTok videosand Instagram reels in which he recounts touching anecdotes and teachable moments from day-to-day library interactions.

His compassion radiates through the screen as he promotes positivity, belonging and “library joy.” In a country faced with a dire literacy crisis, coinciding with regressive and discriminatory book bans and attacks on third spaces from conservatives, Threets’ work to make reading more accessible is needed now more than ever. 

“Library joy in its simplest form is just the joy of the library. What that means is just what I try to and what I hope all library workers embody. It is [fostering that sense of] belonging,” Threets, who has more than 600,000 followers on social media, told HuffPost. “I keep on saying that the library is for everybody: library kids, library grown-ups, mentally ill, unhoused. I love telling people that they don’t have to leave their anxiety, depression or PTSD outside the library. There’s no sign that says you can’t bring your anxiety in.”

In 2020, Threets went viral when he led a campaign to launch a Scholastic Book Fair for adults. He had hoped the events would be hosted in breweries and wineries and would tap into nostalgia; the proceeds would be donated to local schools so no child would leave their book fair empty-handed. Although the idea didn’t materialize due to hesitance from some publishers, it taught him the power of social media.

“March 2023 is a date when I started getting the same attention for every single post, which has been a whirlwind,” he said. “I’ve been sharing library stories probably since 2018, when I became a children’s librarian, but I’ve been more dedicated to it since the pandemic because it was either you download TikTok or you download Animal Crossing.”

Threets, 33, described his newfound virality as “wild” and “overwhelming.” He has been lauded for his joyful presence, soothing “inside voice” and affirming vulnerability. But as is the double-edged nature of the internet, others have leapt at the opportunity to ridicule him. In December, an account on X posted a video from Threets with the caption, “People are getting weirder,” garnering an onslaught of insensitive, hurtful comments. 

Nonetheless, more than 12,000 users on X came to Threets’ defense — including New York Times bestselling author Angie Thomas — quoting the post with positive responses, which Threets says outweigh the negative ones. Of course, he responded with the utmost grace.

“I know how much other people get from what I post, and I know how much I get from what I post and how much joy it brings me,” Threets said. “But it’s been amazing for libraries to have this attention, for people to remember that libraries exist and that they’re for everybody. So many people send me pictures of their library cards, saying ‘Hi, just thought you should know I got a library card. I thought you’d be proud.’”

Threets has been a library kid his entire life, so much so that he has tattoos of Arthur Read’s library card, Lowly Worm from Richard Scarry’s books and several other bookish references on his body. 

“I was always that kid who had a book in their arms, wherever I went,” he said, rattling off titles such as Beverly Cleary’s “Henry Huggins,” “Ramona and Beezus” and “Bud, Not Buddy.”

“I was a shy kid, very reserved. I now know I suffered from social anxiety at a very early age. For me, books were my solace. Books were where I was, like, ‘Ah, I can be myself. I can relax while I’m reading books.’”

As a home-schooled student in Fairfield, California, his mother was maxing out her card to bring books to Threets and his siblings, so she eventually signed them up individually. At the age of 5, Threets received his first library card and became a voracious reader. 

“My parents were always big about [ensuring I] read for an hour a day. As much as I love libraries and library cards, my parents loved them even more,” he said. “They were just so desperate to take more resources from the library for us that they took advantage of me being the oldest child and getting the library card.”

Threets became a supervising librarian of the Fairfield Civic Center Library — the very same library where he earned first library card — in January 2023. With over 10 years of experience under his belt, you might think that Threets was always drawn to librarianship, but that was not the case. After a series of career paths that did not pan out, Threets returned to his roots.

“I was very discouraged. I was sitting at what is the Fairfield Cordelia Library, which is part of my Solano County Library system, reading books and thinking about my next steps. I always tell people that to this day, I don’t know what came over me, but something popped in my head: Why don’t you try to apply to the library?”

“I applied as a library departmental aide, a.k.a., a library shelver. They posted a job opening for a library assistant, and when I applied for that job, I said, ‘You know what? I’m really loving being at this place. This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. If I get this job, if I get this promotion, maybe libraries are for me.’”

Soon enough, he began furthering his education to advance his library career. During the coronavirus pandemic, Threets became a marketing librarian at Fairfield Civic Center Library, working on its social media and website presence and inadvertently developing an arsenal of skills that would become useful much later. 

Now Threets, who wondered if libraries were for him, is fostering inclusivity and changing the face of what librarians are “supposed to be.”

Stereotypes portray librarians as stern, grouchy, glasses-wearing elders, often white women whose pleasure is derived from shushing young visitors. However, Threets’ vivid outfits, bubbly personality, tattoos and piercings buck those notions. 

Moreover, Threets, whose father is Black and mother is Mexican, is one of few men of color in the profession. According to an updated study published by the American Library Association in 2009, less than 1% of credentialed librarians in the U.S. were Black men.

“That’s not the reason that I got the job originally, but it’s definitely something that I’ve recognized that I’ve embraced,” Threets said. “I never saw men behind a library desk, men of any color, and I didn’t see a lot of people of color behind the library desk. I think that’s why, as much as we talked about me loving books and loving the library, it wasn’t something where I ever considered that the library might be a career. It never even registered in my mind as a possibility.”

“To be a Black person, to be Black and Mexican, it just means so much to me. My family is so proud of our culture, of who we are. I just love that I can represent that, be it when my hair is most often in an Afro, if it’s ever in braids. The best part of being a librarian is how much you build these connections over time. I am just privileged and blessed that I can see these interactions, these stories day in and day out. They mean so much to me. It means so much and to be able to show them that it is possible.”

Both online and off, Threets is a conduit for human connection that people so desperately crave. Although he maintains that he’s merely an observer and it’s not his presence that makes things happen, his influence shows up in little, intentional ways. Rather than waiting for library visitors to visit the front desk, he floats around, checking in on their needs and even introducing young readers to books that align with their interests, be it Jason Reynolds’ Miles Morales comics for Marvel or classics such as Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

“I love that there’s much more representation on the shelves now. I’m like, “Hey, this is the book with the Black protagonist that I read.′ ‘Here’s what Nick Stone writes.’ I think that’s what means something to people, seeing a person like me in the library who loves the library the way that love the library. For one, people are just shocked because I’m young in general, but I look significantly younger than I am,” Threets said.

However, after great strides have been in representation in publishing and media, conservative activists and politicians continue to whittle away at all progress with draconian book bans. In Florida, more than 300 books have been removed from schools’ shelves; teachers in Texas and Georgia have even lost their jobs for merely reading books such as “The Diary of Anne Frank” to their students. 

Grappling with right-wing censorship, the Scholastic Book Fair announced a separate selection of books on race and gender under the name “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.” Soon the organization faced backlash from advocacy groups such as PEN America, alleging that the separation actually enables schools to opt out of the collection. Shortly after, New York Mayor Eric Adams ended New York Public Library’s Sunday service due to budget cuts.

Threets said that efforts to diminish access to books and to libraries such as the New York Public Library, which he refers to as the “mecca of libraries,” make him feel awful. While the Solano County Library rarely receives requests to ban books, he said, whenever any library is suffering, other library workers are suffering, too.

“It’s all one fight that we’re in together,” Threets said. “Librarians are just trying to put good books in the hands of people. There’s nothing wrong with the books. It’s not critical race theory. It’s not that people are trying to indoctrinate anybody. It happens to be a book with a Black character. It happens to be by a Black author illustrated by a Black person.”

Threets said that another problem is how the panic is often stoked by adults who haven’t even read the books.

“They’re just books that we’ve all wanted all our life that we never got,” he said, noting that published authors from diverse backgrounds were previously few and far between. “Authors are just telling our stories, which is very difficult because people are just so adamant about banning the book that they’re not even really willing to listen.” 

He said that while the “library adult” is well within their right to deem a book inappropriate for their child, the problem lies in their insistence on banning it for all children. 

Threets’ approach is to celebrate the freedom to read, meet people where they are and use these opportunities as a vehicle to create conversations regarding all of the resources available at the library beyond books. 

When asked about the obstacles that libraries face, Threets approached it from an internal and external perspective. Some libraries with far fewer resources and significantly tighter budgets than the NYPL often rely heavily on donations to maintain a catalog of books. “They can’t offer programs. They only have books. Some are just now getting movies because that’s all they can afford.”

Moreover, a smaller budget results in lower staff salaries. The biggest issues in “library land” that the public is often unaware of, Threets said, are burnout, mental health and caring for the unhoused. As conversations take off on X (formerly Twitter) expecting libraries to be everything to everyone, most librarians know they are already wearing multiple hats. Though Threets shares “the best aspects” of library life on social media, audiences are shielded from librarians’ more precarious situations.

“Many librarians in the United States have a master’s degree. We were not trained in assisting the unhoused,” Threets said. “We weren’t trained in aiding those who are mentally ill, but these are still hats we wear. We’re a community who believes everybody does belong. So when you believe everyone belongs and you put your money where your mouth is, then you’re going to allow the homeless people to come on inside, those who are mentally ill to come on inside just as they are.”

There are weeks when Threets has been cursed out by multiple people, who later come back and apologize. He has even received violent threats from disgruntled individuals. Online, Threets is transparent and genuine about his own mental health struggles; he talks about his experiences with panic attacks and offers uplifting words and coping mechanisms to his followers. With the growing hypervisibility, he reminds himself that it’s OK to take a step back and indulge in his self-care practices: going on walks or watching comfort TV, like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Despite the few hateful online comments that come his way, Threets has a legion of supporters. One of his most recent followers was the official Arthur Read TikTok account, based on Marc Brown’s beloved aardvark character.

“I freaked out,” Threets said. “I know full well that there is a team of people behind that TikTok account, but in my brain, that’s Arthur.” 

This past month, the American Library Association honored Threets with the I Love My Librarian Award for Outstanding Library Service. Out of 1,400 nominees, Threets was one of 10 librarians selected. 

In November, a small Change.org petition to revive PBS’s “Reading Rainbow” with Threets as the host began. When Threets learned about it, he loved the idea — but he also laughed it off and said, “Guys, LeVar Burton is very much alive. He is out there! He has his own book club!” But the significance of those comparisons to Burton — and Mr. Rogers — is not lost on him. 

“The people they compare me to are my literal heroes, people that I grew up watching,” Threets said. “I think it kind of makes sense that the people that I grew up watching are who I’ve kind of started to emulate. Until recently, I don’t think they knew why it meant so much to me that they were describing me as my heroes. It makes my day every single day because it means I’m getting close to making them proud. It is appreciated far more than they know.”

Threets said that he’s trying to serve as a reminder to people that there is some positivity in this world. It’s not him being fake or performative. Threets shares stories the way he does because he’s trying to remind himself to keep on going.

Though Threets has been a library worker for a decade, if he were to consider pivoting, his dream would be to travel the nation visiting libraries, museums and bookstores and “just listening to the unhinged silliness and love that people have for their local institutions.” 

“It really is almost more of a YouTube-style show, sharing the stories, then talking about libraries and doing mental health checks with the audience on the other side of the screen. But I love being a librarian. It’s a lot of fun doing what I do day in and day out. There are a lot of hard days, and I wish I could just make videos all day long, but I do know that I’m not made to be an actual actor.”

Threets said that the best way to support your local libraries is as simple as going and signing up for a free library card, even if you don’t use it. He noted that administrators and city leaders pay attention to the registration numbers as well as the door count, both of which are indicators that people are visiting and the public library is a necessity. 

“I think some library people are burned out,” he said. “They just feel so unloved, so unneeded sometimes. So just a simple ‘Hello, I’m not going to use the library, but I just want to come in and say hi and thank you for what you do for the community’ means the world. That’s what I love doing. That’s why I’m always talking about other library people because, again, they’re the ones who made me who I am today.”

Until his next act, Threets will continue to spread library joy.

Source URL: https://portside.org/2024-01-31/hes-americas-favorite-librarian-and-hes-just-getting-started-spreading-library-joy